Saturday, July 29, 2006

Poetry, Religion, and Philadelphia

This is my last night in Amman. I'm leaving tomorrow, going for a small journey before joining my sister in America. I plan to return to Lebanon after the war.

Before I leave Jordan, I'm going to visit the ancient lands of Sodom, the baneful inheritance of gay people worldwide, and the namesake of "لوطي" and "sodomite". I wonder if it will change me in some way, but I don't yet know the manner. Will the earth open like an awoken, bitter clam and swallow me? Will the lapping of the sea greet me like the friendly tongue of a lonely dog? My heart is swarming with quietly whispering bees.

I spent the night eating falafel and onions (quartered perfectly, with just a hint of brown skin to give texture), and I wrote this poem:

With the molten night still flowing slowly over the hillsides,
not yet hardened into its opaline shell,
the cafes crowd with starched white shirts
and immaculately pastel peasant skirts,
every eye turned to the burning hillside of Jebel Achrafieh.
The words "amber" and "ochre" and "cinnamon" quiver in the air,
clumsily weighted by their Germanic accents
and clattering like bits of copper on the tiles.

Every house on Jebel Achrafieh is the exact same color,
an indistinguishable sandstone that rises organically from the earth.
If you run quickly, civilization disappears in a whirling panorama:
smeared in the rushing drab of the dirt and the bright of the sky.

If I had a house on Jebel Achrafieh, I'd paint it blue
with chalk, just once a year, in a month without holidays,
like Shaban or Thu al-Kadah,
months that dim in the light of Ramadan and Thu al-Hijra.
On that day, the women washing clothes would shout
"Such beauty held in sapphire walls!"
The sun would stop high in the sky, resting and admiring,
and the blinded women would spill their buckets of frothing water.

Every day the lazy strollers on the steep avenues of Amman
absorb the muffled beauty of endlessly rolling ginger hills.
But for one sunset in the year, the glory of difference would shine,
and before the mullahs could run from their hilltops and shout their curses,
would be washed away in the swirling rivers of the washer-women,
left to nothing but azure streams by the cold morning light.
I've been thinking a lot about the wars in the Middle East, and all the burdens that come with it. What comes to mind are the intangible riches of the ancient world: the philosophy of Greece, the law of Rome, the magic of India, and the wisdom of Persia.

What did the lands of Arabia bring? Religion. The East boils in religion, heated by the boiling sands of the Arabian desert, while the West fidgets with cool, calculating legality. The U.S. and Europe fight over what is legal, what is agreed-upon, what is enforcable, while the East argues over right, wrong and God, infinitely more difficult conceptions. Arabs have never really put faith in the United Nations, and the Arab League is a porcelain vase that is endlessly dropeed and glued back together. Religion is both the glory and the curse of the Middle East: it brings it light and it brings it war.

I remember watching "The Neverending Story" on television as a child, with the hungry "Nothing". It gave me nightmares. More than any other figment that terrorized me - Chucky, the djinn, the man under the bed - the idea of the Nothing tortured me. Chucky would stab me, the djinn would eat me, and the man under the bed would do something horrible. But what would happen to me when the Nothing came?

The deserts of Arabia are expanding, eating away at the Arabian nations. I once heard an American compare the deserts to the American plains, an awful comparison. While they may be alike in stark beauty, the plains give life - corn, wheat, and cattle - the desert gives empty gifts wrapped in shimmering brown paper. I wonder if I'll start dreaming of the desert, as I used to of the Nothing.

I may not post for a while, because of my stay in Sodom, so I am going to leave with a good post: the review of Unspeakable Love that I promised to do a while ago. It'll be right under this one, when I finish it. I'll also leave with this excerpt of one of my favorite poems, "La colère de Samson". It's a fight of lovers, of men vs. women, but it means so much more than that:

Bientôt, se retirant dans un hideux royaume,
La Femme aura Gomorrhe et l'Homme aura Sodome,
Et, se jetant, de loin, un regard irrité,
Les deux sexes mourront chacun de son côté.